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274                                                                                                             B. POLEVOI
Almost immediately after Struchkov left the room,
Lieutenant-Colonel Kapustin, the political officer of the
school, came in. He was a short, ungainly individual with
thick eye-glasses, wearing a badly fitting uniform that
hung on him like a sack. The trainees loved to listen to
his lectures on international problems, during which this
clumsy-looking man made them feel proud that they were
participants in this great war. But they did not think much
of him as an officer; they regarded him as a civilian who
had got into the Air Force by chance and knew nothing
about aviation. Paying no attention to Meresyev, Kapu-
stin looked round the room, sniffed the air and suddenly
exclaimed angrily:
"Who the hell's been smoking here? There's a smoking-
room to smoke in. Comrade Senior Lieutenant, what does
this mean?"
"I don't smoke," answered Alexei indifferently, con-
tinuing to lie on the bed.
"Why are you lying there? Don't you know the rules?
Why don't you get up when your superior enters? Get
This was not a command. On the contrary, it was
spoken in the polite manner of a civilian, but Meresyev
obeyed listlessly and stood to attention next to his
"That's right, Comrade Senior Lieutenant," said Kapu-
stin encouragingly. "And now sit down and let's talk."
"What about?"
"About you. Let's go out. I want to smoke, and it is
not permitted here."
They went out into the dimly-lit corridor—the electric
bulbs were coloured blue for the black-out—and stood
by the window. Kapustin puffed at his pipe, and at each
puff his broad, thoughtful face was lit up by the glow.
"I intend to give your instructor a reprimand today,"
he said.
''What for?"
"For letting you go up into the sector without first
obtaining permission from his superiors___Why are you
staring at me like that? As a matter of fact, I deserve a
reprimand myself for not having had a talk with you
before, I never have the time, always busy. I intended